Text By Ann Rath
Have you lately noticed people in the area with lanterns, marching through your town or village and you were wondering what that was? Maybe you have heard of the traditional lantern parade called St. Martin which takes place every year at the beginning of November.
We remember this altruistic Roman soldier called Martin who helped a beggar who was almost freezing to death in the snow. Martin did that by cutting his red (soldier’s) gown in two halves and giving the second half to the man. After that, Jesus appeared in one of Martin’s dreams telling him that what he had done for the beggar, he had actually done for Jesus himself. Later on, Martin became a convinced Christian and was a monk. He finally was elected to be a bishop and was well known for his good deeds (Sankt Martin, English: Saint Martin).
For this occasion, the Germans design lanterns of all shapes and colors with the children. As this usually takes some effort, the children look even more forward to taking part in the St. Martin’s parade. The moms need to buy an electric lantern stick (usually they are offered in October / November in the German supermarkets and should be bought as early as possible, otherwise they might be sold out) plus batteries, of course.
When I was a kid in the late 70s / early 80s, we still had real candles and people have told me that their lanterns had been set on fire several times. Fortunately, this never happened to me!
There is often a “real” Sankt Martin on a horse who leads the parade until the people get to a fire where the beggar and everyone can warm themselves. During the parade, the people will sing traditional St. Martin songs (“Laterne, Laterne” and “Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin“) and have a good time. As it’s November and it is dark rather early, this takes place at 5 or 6 pm which is a good time for smaller children.
In the place where I live there are several St. Martin’s parades, because different elementary schools and preschools organize them for their children. For most parades there will be police cars which block the streets for this purpose and the firefighters help keeping the fires under control. The children usually get a little “Weckmann” (a small “man” made of dough, usually with a clay pipe or a sucker) from the bakery OR a German “Bretzel” OR some sweets (depending on the region) as Martin liked children very much and did so many good things for people in need.
You are curious to read the full story of St. Martin? You can read a more detailed English version of St. Martin and St. Martin’s Day on the internet. And who knows – maybe you will design a lantern and take part next year? I promise: it’s worth it! :-)